kolmapäev, detsember 03, 2008

not bad.

There is a surprisingly readable story in Spiegel Online about the "NATO-Russia" border, as if NATO was a great power with its own leadership, flag, and military ... oh wait, never mind.

Predictably summoned is the metaphor of Narva, the two castles opposing one another on the Estonian-Russia border, the one on the left symbolizing the Catholic and, later, Protestant West, the one on the right symbolizing the Byzantine, and later Orthodox, East. Except the city on the left is inhabited by people of the city of the right's persuasion. The world lacks ordnung, as writer Walter Mayr learns:

In the city of Narva, where Stalin had apartment buildings and factories built over the ruins of blown-up Baroque houses, 96 percent of residents are ethnic Russians. Only 40 percent have an Estonian passport. To this day, almost one in five city residents have no citizenship to this day, while the rest have opted for Russian citizenship.

There is an interesting correlation in the minds of some writers and readers between citizenship and loyalty: as if passports were handed out in Narva from the back of the lorry, the situation would change. I would like to remind those who would read, that most of those on trial for the pronksöö riots are Estonian citizens. But I will accept that citizenship serves here as a metaphor for national influence. The Estonians, I suppose, are free to do as they like with their own citizens. The Russians, as we learned in Georgia, feel the need to protect theirs, wherever it suits their geopolitical interests. And the stateless? Under whose dominion do they fall?

Spiegel's Mayr is definitely not the first to play with these ideas of Estonian apocalypse. But what frustrates me is the extent to which local officials play along.

See Mart Helme, former Estonian ambassador to Moscow and patron of the Estonian National Movement, describe Narva as a ""frozen and hungry fifth column," full of Kremlin spies waiting "to creep out into the streets and provoke clashes because Estonia troops are incapable of staving off the Russian army as it marches into Narva."

Now witness Narva City Council head Mikhail Stalnukhin conjure up a South Ossetia situation for Narva: "Such a scenario can only become reality," Stalnukhin is quoted as saying, "if people in Estonia interested in seeing it happen make the preparations. In other words, if a genocide takes place first."

Comments like these make Andrus Ansip and his rival/partner Edgar Savisaar look like adorable, centrist teddy bears. Grown-ups are desperately in need to calm Helme's déjà vu vision of Baltic eclipse and Stalnukhin's nutbar allusion to genocide. And in walks Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, "a man with a typically Nordic mix of a gloomy and placid temperament, " to assuage the the working people of Narva's concerns over the war in Georgia:

"For two hours, speaking in Russian, I attempted to explain to the angry workers why the Estonian government supported the Georgians, not the South Ossetians," says Paet in his office in the Estonian capital Tallinn. "We have a communication problem with the ethnic Russians in our country, and that must change."

What I have found interesting in recent months, is how Estonia has suddenly become a focal point of those describing a "new cold war," while Latvia, where even more people are stateless, where even more people belong to ethnic groups other than Latvian, seems to have been forgotten. Is it just strategically unimportant? Is the focus on Narva as a future possible site of discontent just part of an amazing spin-job launched from the Estonian Foreign Ministry to squeeze NATO for more support? Is Kaval Ants picking the master's pockets?

President Ilves now appears, sans colorful descriptions, to address the shortcomings of the alliance to which Estonia so proudly belongs. The American writer Tom Bissell once described Ilves as Estonia's "bow-tied and owlishly appealing president." I like that word "owlish." I'll make sure to use it sometime:

Says Ilves, it is high time to clarify how much Article 5 of the NATO Treaty would be worth for Estonia in an emergency. Article 5 describes the obligation of alliance partners to protect a fellow NATO country in the event of an "armed attack." But, as even Ilves knows, NATO is not responsible for domestic conflicts within Estonia.


Hmm, fearmongering much. Or just being prepared? If I make it to Narva one of these days I'll make sure to bring along some protective nordic walking poles to fend off any domestic conflicts at the Kerese Selver or occurrences of genocide at the local Swedbank office. A dispute over the last six-pack of Jõuluporter could trigger World War III! But, in all, a pretty fair piece with some honestly included. Not bad.

18 kommentaari:

Wahur ütles ...

I have taken quite fatalistic view on these issues. Whatever policy Estonia has or will have towards Russians, does not much influence the outcome.
They will remain economically disadvantaged and largely socially isolated for decades to come. Even if we gifted every last one of them 1 000 000 kroons and mail Estonian passport to everyone, whether they ask for it or not, they will still remain economically disadvantaged and socially isolated. Change can only happen IF they want it to happen and IF they are ready to do something about it themselves, and this will happen only with generation change.
If Russia wants to cause trouble, it can cause it because of, and using 100 Russians or 100 000 Russians, it does not matter. And if Russia does not want to cause trouble for whatever reason, then it wont, even if put all those Russian-speaking people on the train.
So the only solution is buying time. 20 years, 50 years, the more the better. Me and you will not see this issue solved.

Doris ütles ...

People keep going on and on about the border treaty and how we don't have one with Russia. Thing is though, that Estonians know very well indeed that Russians only keep treaties for as long as it suits them. If they decide to go for a "peacekeeping mission" to Setomaa (which, by the way is a much better target because the Setos are Orthodox and kind of split between Estonia and Russia. Also, there is no clearly visual border in southern Estonia as the Narva river is) then they'l do it, treaty or no treaty.

besides, they're harmless right now. you have to be extra-extra careful when the russian state is playing nice. When it's all howl and bark like now, we're probably safe enough.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Given a chance, I would, in private, smack Paet over the back of his head for supporting Georgia in this sordid and sorry war. In public and in front of Russians, I would, however, support his position. Reluctantly.

Juhan ütles ...

Guys like Stalnuhhin really make me angry about the Russians. He doesn't mention that this situation is already a result of a genocide against Estonians and he threatens with a new one, should we have anything to say about it. And they're getting away with it. Do you need further proof for non-existance of God?

(Now.. breathe slowly again, be calm, be calm like an Estonian again.. your country and your people are screwed but there's nothing to do about it and no need to get overly emotional..)

Giustino ütles ...

Given a chance, I would, in private, smack Paet over the back of his head for supporting Georgia in this sordid and sorry war.

I am really interested in what is going on behind closed doors in that regard.

What is the explanation? Did they figure out somehow that Saakashvili misled them? Is Saakashvili's ouster being planned, and suddenly all we will hear about is Nino, Nino, Nino? Is Bush caving during his final weeks in office? Has reality set in?

Wahur ütles ...

Consider two scenarios:
a) Russians, just out of a blue, decide to sit in a tank and drive to Tbilisi.
b) Russians, knowing via their agents that Saakashvili plans final solution of Ossetian problem, sit in a tank and wait for the show to start.
Which one sounds more reasonable? If you ask me, Putin is a bastard but not an idiot.
Saaka, meanwhile, is much more of an idiot, and will be most probably replaced as soon as it can be done without losing face.

martintg ütles ...

I'm surprised some enterprising business man hasn't set up an employment agency in Narva to recruit young Russian speakers into lucrative oil and gas jobs back in Russia. Isn't Russia suppose to be suffering serious demographic decline?

Jens-Olaf ütles ...

Leaving behind the burden of history, that would be nice. But the whole thing with Narva stinks from the beginning. Imagine there was a occupier in a big country, let's say the U.S.A., Russia or China. One occupied city was emptied by the new power or residents were not allowed to come back like in Narva. Then it became a place to rebuild but not with the former titular citicens. Then the occupier left. What do you think big countries would do at that moment?

martintg ütles ...

Sure, we all know the history of Narva and we can shake our fists and lament at the injustice of it all, but that doesn't help us.

The convergence of Russia's rise as a oil and gas exporter, Russia's demographic decline and Estonia's economic difficulties provide a unique moment in history where commerce can provide a solution the the problems of the unbalanced demographic situation in North east Estonia.

The Estonian government should be directly encouraging Russian oil and gas companies, with incentives if necessary, to set up recruitment agencies in Narva.

It's a win-win situation.

Wahur ütles ...

Win-win? Considering Estonian demographic situation? Where's gonna be the Estonian recruitment agency?

O, right, I know! I hear they have some trouble in Zimbabwe now. These guys really could use some healthy lutheran work discipline and long Nordic winters!

The only real patriotic duty and solution to national problems for us Estonians would be to shag our women properly and have more kids. All the rest is wishful thinking.

martintg ütles ...

I fully agree, shagging our women is most definitely a solution to our problems.

Given that there are X number of jobs, and declining, in an economy in recession, and there are X+Y number of people, I don't see there is a problem in the Y component leaving to take jobs in Russia.

Giustino ütles ...

Where's gonna be the Estonian recruitment agency?

Toronto?

stockholm slender ütles ...

I really don't know whether all these dramatic attitudes and all sorts scare scenarios are such a fruitful approach to the situation. The minority question should be handled sensibly regardless of Kremlin's attitudes. Even if Estonia would be a paradise for Russian speakers, Moscow could still use it as a pretext - and vice versa, if friendship with Estonia would be essential they wouldn't care a bit of the ethnic Russian status there. So they can safely be forgotten when it comes to actual policies. However, meaningless gestures and symbolic, empty actions go down very well in Moscow, so when necessary these can be used to placate their even more meaningless tantrums.

It is all very well to remember "the lessons of history" but one can remember them too well. It is still not the 1930's and Estonia is still not left alone by the West. We might be entering more unstable times with the global economic downturn, but it is a very, very long way from August 1939.

Giustino ütles ...

I was sort of embarrassed by Stalnukhin and Helme's remarks. I am not sure of the context of their comments.

Kristopher ütles ...

Russia must be loving the fact that it has managed to sow doubt and break Western solidarity on the matter of Georgia. I'm sure that was part of the game plan.

Anyway, I didn't get the memo about how exactly having to do something in the face of sabre-rattling makes Saaka an idiot.

I know the same critics would criticize him for being meek or doing nothing, so I'm nonplussed by these people.

Giustino ütles ...

The problem is that the Georgia issue is drenched in kool-aid.

If you believe the universalist pro-Saakashvili lobby, he's a democracy-loving wonder boy called Misha who only does good.

If you believe the cynical eurocrats, he's an impulsive narcissist who got played hard by the Kremlin and lost.

If you believe the shrill Kremlin spin doctors, he's a genocidal maniac.

Which one will it be? And have you noticed how Estonia has gone from being boldly of option A to being a more cautious option B as of late? Paet said that Saakashvili made a mistake. Uh oh. Something is going on. What is it? Is Dmitri Rogozin correct, that Saakashvili's support has eroded and that Saint Nino is being groomed for the resurrection?

Will someone tell me what is going on?

Wahur ütles ...

Obviously I sit in the camp B.
We have a situation where one side of the conflict is obviously busy with ethnic cleansing, while loudly accusing the other party of the same. The other party, in turn, has been caught lying in more than one issue and his most crucial allegation is really standing on very fragile evidence. And even should this evidence (elint about Russian troop movement) be true, it still does not prove anything. So I cannot see any reason for blue-eyed idealism.
Saaka was had, as a result Georgian chance of ever getting control over lost territories is virtually gone, Georgian population of these territories is destined for refugee camps and fact that those two territories will never get recognized by most of the world does not matter anything. At least not more than Western non-recognition of Baltic annexation by SU.
An sure, someone needs to replace Saaka - who wants to deal with a loser.

Kalle Kniivilä ütles ...

Oh well, is it Georgia again? Hasn't everything been said about that already?

Narva is much more interesting. I spent a couple of days there, visiting the editorial offices of local Russian language mass media, and I rather liked the city. But I feel I'd need to spend a couple of weeks there and see a bit more before I understand how the whole thing works. Anyway, it's quite schizophrenic, walking around in Narva and seeing signs that are in Estonian only, while everybody speaks Russian.

I didn't write anything in English,but here is some of my stuff in Swedish, Finnish and  Russian.